What is Machine Vision?
At the basic level machine vision is anything to do with a camera connected to a computer at a higher level topics such as deep learning and artificial intelligence, can also be classified as machine vision
What applications are there for machine vision?
As machine vision is a technology market not just an industry market applications range from sports analysis, goal line technology, golf swing analysis through to production lines checking components are correct and making sure there are no defects on the products.
Automation in farming is a growing area where you can have the automatic harvesting of vegetables. Animation and computer game generation use it to create, 3D renders that look realistic. Capturing this data is all done by machine. The biggest market is inspection in markets such as followed by automotive, pharma and packaging. You must make sure the packaging is correct on food and similarly in pharmaceuticals.
How does STEMMER IMAGING fit into each of these areas?
We're a core technology provider we supply customers in all of the aforementioned areas. We provide not only the components such as the cameras, lights, lenses, software and processors, . We also have a lot of added value in our knowhow services, our customers come to us and say, "I want to solve this problem," and then we work with them to solve it. A lot of our technology is used embedded in other peoples products as we work with OEMs, you don't often see a purely STEMMER IMAGING vision system.
How have you helped customers with specific problems that they needed solving?
As previously mentioned we work with various companies, famous ones such as Hawkeye .as well as other well-known industry companies. You may wonder when you buy eight slices of bacon at four hundred grams how this is achieved. Well there's a vision system in the front of the slicer that looking at how much fat, how much lean, the size of the slice and adjusting the thickness such that eight slices equals the correct weight. Our technology is everywhere even though you don’t see our name because you'll go and buy a bacon slicing machine and we’re already embedded within that and in that instance, we’ve also already developed software, specified all the hardware and linked it all together.
How does being embedded in a product differ from embedded imaging?
Embedded vision can mean lots of different things. If you look at any smart camera, such as our suppliers LMI or DALSA, embedded basically means the camera, the sensor, the software and the processor are in one package. Embedded vision has been about a long time, and that's what you get in a smart camera, but at the other end, embedded vision can be a separate camera, a separate piece of software in an embedded industrial PC without a fan, not like a normal PC.
However, what people are talking about using the term “embedded vision” is the move to embraced embedded processors like those in a mobile phone namely, ARM processors, people say "We don't need to use a PC, we can use one of these small embedded processors, a bit like a Raspberry Pi or an ODROID." Put our camera onto it and create something which is smaller and embedded. And making this kind of development easier is what all the buzz is about, however often it's not as embedded as a smart camera where every PCB inside it is custom made and has been done chip by chip by chip to make the product. There is a big new area where people say, "I can take a camera module, an ARM board, make some small modifications connect them together, use open source software and create a solution."
Do embedded systems allow people to make their own custom solution?
Yes, but the big difference is, if you got the PC system from STEMMER IMAGING they’re very easy to put together. Moving to embedded platforms require different skills and development experience. That’s where we come in, our software Common Vision Blox allows you to take things that you've developed on the PC and move it to this embedded platform and reduce the development time.
What is the Common Vision Blox System?
That's one of our own products, it's a software product that pulls everything together. It’s support for embedded platforms is relatively new, but it's sold with most of our systems both PC and embedded. If someone buys any camera from STEMMER (and we sell to about four or five different manufacturers of cameras), each one is shipped with a free copy of the Acquisition engine from Common Vision Blox.
This means that customers can move between the cameras rather than having to change their software every time they change the camera. It allows them to develop and evolve their systems without having to redesign for each manufacturer which is one of our added values, you buy a camera from us and it means that you can change to any other or even make your system appear like a camera without having to redevelop the software again. Which, if you buy Basler or FLIR and you use their software, you can only ever use their products.
Do you think software development is going to be key moving forwards in the vision field?
Yes, but there are different levels of software and one of the straplines we have here is, "Machine vision made easy and accessible" and that's the whole point of machine vision. At the top level you have pieces of software that point and click, you can solve a problem without writing any software. That's high end, that would be a factory floor, the guy would come along from a production line and say, "I need to make sure these are twisted, every single one of these is in the packet and it's correct." They don't want to write software, they want to come along click a couple of buttons and it’s done, it works like an app on your phone.
However, that’s just one market more for end users which we do address however that is just one kind of product. Where our Common Vision Blox comes in to its own is where someone wants to do something bespoke which is custom, and they need to have programming skills to do that. What we try to do is add lots of things to make it easy. For instance, you can develop on whatever software language you want, from Python through to C# to C++, .NET, the customer can use what they want but using the same tools underneath to do other things. It gives them the freedom to develop how they want to develop.